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James D. Smillie and Smillie family papers, 1853-1957

Smillie, James David, 1833-1909

Lithographer, Painter, Engraver

This site provides access to the James D. Smillie and Smillie family papers in the Archives of American Art that were digitized in 2012. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 9,432 images.

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Collection Information

Size: 5.6 linear feet

Summary: The James D. Smillie and Smillie Family papers measure 5.6 linear feet and date from 1853 to 1957. The collection consists of the papers of four members of the Smillie family including James Smillie, his sons James David and George Henry Smillie, and George's wife, Helen "Nellie" Jacobs Smillie. The majority of the papers are those of James D. Smillie, comprised of correspondence, forty-five daily diaries, a scrapbook, printed materials, and one etching. The papers of James Smillie consist of biographical materials and writings. The George Smillie papers include biographical materials, scattered correspondence, a scrapbook, printed materials, and photographs. The Helen Jacobs Smillie papers include correspondence and photographs. Also found are scattered materials relating to other family members, mostly the children of Helen Jacobs and George Smillie.
James David Smillie's papers consist of correspondence, personal business records, forty-five diaries, a scrapbook, and printed material. Correspondence is mostly professional in nature and includes letters from Albert Bierstadt, Frederick Stuart Church, Samuel Colman, Charles Henry Hart, Eastman Johnson, James Smillie, and A.T. Tait. Forty-five volumes of detailed daily diaries dating from 1865 until 1909 include entries about his work, but are exceedingly rich in references to over 200 artists with which Smillie was associated. Additionally, there are numerous loose documents, notes, and some photographs that were found tucked within the diaries. This finding aid includes a list of named artists referenced in the diaries along with the exact date of the notation. James D. Smillie's papers also include an original etching entitled "Up the Hill."
James Smillie papers are scattered and include manuscript and draft copies of his published autobiography, "A Pilgrimage," and memorabilia from his 50th wedding anniversary to Catherine Van Valkenburg Smillie.
George Henry Smillie papers contain biographical materials, scattered correspondence, a scrapbook of clippings, printed materials, and photographs. There is a certificate from the National Academy of Design dating from 1883 and photographs of Smillie, Smillie in his studio, and his family.
Helen Jacobs Smillie papers consist of family correspondence from her husband and parents, and studio portrait photographs.
Scattered papers from other family members include correspondence, a list of works of art by the family, a photograph album from Sheldon Smillie, and a portrait of William Smillie.

Biographical/Historical Note

James Smillie (1807-1885) was an engraver. His son James D. (1833-1909) was a painter, engraver, lithographer, and active in New York City art clubs and societies. Another son, George Henry (1840-1921) was a painter. Helen Jacobs Smillie, known as Nellie, was a member of the American Watercolor Society along with her husband, George, and brother-in-law, and painted in the Hudson River School style.


The Smillie Family papers were donated in several installations between 1978 and 1990 by James Smillie, David Smillie, and Barbara Smillie Curtis.

Related Materials


Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Location of Originals

  • Reel 3829, journal: Original retained by the donor, Mrs. Barbara Curtis.,
  • Reel 3766: Originals returned to the lender, James Smillie, after microfilming.